Hammersmith as he started out – Hair by Anne Rice.
They often say it’s not what you know that counts in life, but who you know.
Of course, they’re frequently wrong. Frequently, but not right now, because in the wake of Christmas and before we get all frantic for the new year, it occurs to me that I know some seriously good and talented people.
Being an editor in my day job of course, I’m privileged to know a lot of people who are either published, or good enough to be published. And yes, you’ll get to meet some of them over the next few months. I know talented podcasters – and from time to time I’ve even been honoured to help out with one or two of them – Jake Farr-Wharton’s Imaginary Friends Show in particular. As an editor, I also surround myself with talented people on a daily basis – I have two authors working as editors at Jefferson Franklin who are simply destined for bookshelves, and a young filmmaker who thinks about things more than I’ve done in the last ten years, but still manages to be funny with it. I know musicians, poets, journalists who all blow me away – and when I say I know them, I mean I really know them, rather than Facebook-knowing them. Some of these people I’ve known most of my life. Some live around the world, some just down the road. At least one, rather confusingly, does both. All of them help make my life that little bit more colourful or musical or funny or dry.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of them in particular – a man named Stephen Amos.
I’ve known Steve since comprehensive school, though in the last twenty years we’ve actually seen each other fewer than a handful of times. Like a lot of us, Steve has a job and a family and knows when he’s well off, but he also has a creative side, and recently it’s been coming to the fore a bit more than usual. He’s started making videos on Youtube.
I said I’d share them with you because they’re short, delicious examples of storytelling through image and music, so for instance, tryMare Tranquillitatus for a meditation on the Moon (sigh – I’m going to be humming that tune all day tomorrow), or Faerie Tale for an exercise in mood and pacing. Go now, and do all the usual Youtubey things – comment, follow, I daresay there’ll be more coming soon.
Recently, Steve posted me a cryptic message on Facebook. ‘Sorry in advance,’ it said. I was curious – we’re old friends, and we disagree about a solidly respectable number of things when it comes to life, the universe and everything, so I wondered what he’d done.
Turned out what he’d done was a massive favour. He’d taken some of the Wonderful images from by PS Brooks that I’d posted on Facebook, and worked them up into a ‘book trailer’ for me. I was flattered and flabbergasted that he’d have done such a valuable thing without me begging him to, or without at least a healthy sackful of cash being deposited on his doorstep – I’d toyed with the idea of getting a book trailer done before, but hadn’t found anyone who I felt ‘got’ it, and I wasn’t sure even I could boil the book down to a short enough precis to work in book trailer form.
Steve managed, with a degree of skill that’s frankly infuriating, and without having read the book, without having lived it and breathed it and edited and re-edited the book over months of his life, to encapsulate it for me in just ten words. Elevator pitch, be damned, this is brevity as a science, but it works. Take a look at his impromptu Wonderful trailer and try telling me it doesn’t work. Did I mention – good and talented people?
I couldn’t help myself of course – I pointed out one typo, and the fact that he’d used images of a couple of different versions of Hammersmith in it (‘Oh yeah,’ said d, ‘I prefer the other version.’). So I’ve now given him access to all the real, finished images there are to date, and he’s said he’ll have a noodle with them as and when he can. So at some point, there’ll be an updated book trailer to take a look at. (I know, I know – at some point, there will be a book to take a look at too, I promise!)
But for now, ladies, gentlemen, freaks, geeks and fellow fiddlers about on the funny side of life, I give you Stephen Amos – go like him, follow him, go wild and crazy for him. The foolishly generous fellow deserves it.
Figured it might be fun to post another extract for you.
This is the moment, early in the novel, where the perpetually suicidal George Bailey (No, not that George Bailey – just Coincidence having a laugh) has to see his Guardian Demon’s home for the first time in the 83 years of their shared destiny. See what you think.
The Tate Modern. Right at the top. And generally invisible. You are here.
Hammersmith didn’t exactly live anywhere. Or rather, the penthouse apartment in which he lived wasn’t really ‘there,’ in any sense of which a respectable non-quantum physicist would approve. It was invisible to the uninvited eye, though not exactly intangible. Anyone who happened to be strolling around the roof of the Tate Modern’s tower on a moonlit night and who wandered through the space where Hammersmith’s apartment appeared not to be, would feel a deeper, growling chill, and be instantly seized by the idea that they wanted to get the hell away from there, really really fast. That was because the apartment was built out of supercooled negative energy, which had a tendency to give off its own low-level fuck-off vibe.
They approached the apartment now, and Bailey felt the queasiness crawl up and over him like a big slow hairy spider. ‘I don’t like it here,’ he said.
‘Diddums,’ said Hammersmith. ‘’S’not like I want you here, George. If I could trust you not to practice your cordless bungee routine every time my back’s turned, I’d leave you out here. But as it stands, you’re with me. We’re not staying long in any case. Just need to pick up some supplies.’
‘Supplies?’ said Bailey.
‘Of course supplies. Don’t expect me to go up against an Original empty-handed, do you? Whaddaya take me for?’
Bailey thought of answering him. Then he thought about not answering him. That was better. He shuddered. ‘The supplies are for the plan, are they?’
‘Changed my mind. Plans are bad. You ask anyone. Any time some daft bugger’s ridden into death or glory, or decided to try and take Moscow in wintertime, you can bet your bottom they had a plan.’
‘Dollar,’ said Bailey absently, still feeling the creeping spidercrawl of the energy.
‘Bet your bottom dollar. That’s the expression.’
‘You’ve never played poker in Hell, have you?’ Hammersmith smirked.
Bailey shuddered. ‘Why the Tate?’
‘You don’t want to get me started on that one.’
Bailey nodded, waited a second. ‘Why the Tate?’ he asked again, like a two-year-old.
Hammersmith sighed. ‘Look across the river,’ he said, as if that explained everything.
Bailey did. The impressive dome of St Paul’s Cathedral stuck up into the night sky.
‘Exactly. Wren’s folly!’ Hammersmith spat. ‘Brilliant man, Christopher Wren. Brilliant man in an age of extremely brilliant men – and women too, actually. A polymath, did all sorts of things. Scientific things, amazing things. Involved in setting up the Royal Society, you know?’
‘And so you want to live opposite his greatest achievement?’
‘Greatest achievement be damned!’ Hammersmith spat again. ‘That thing,’ he snarled, pulling Bailey suddenly by the arm and pointing, ‘represents the shackling of scientific and architectural genius in the service of the Church. Everybody’s always “Oooh, isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it clever?” Hideous bloody thing. I despise everything it stands for.’
‘And so you live opposite it?’
Hammersmith shrugged, took a deep breath. ‘The Tate’s an interesting shape,’ he explained. ‘I was involved in the construction of this building. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were perfectly good solid reasons why it needed a big tower in the middle of it. But I was determined to get them to build it, whether it was necessary or not.’
‘You’re… Wait a minute, you’re giving the finger to St Paul’s Cathedral?’
Hammersmith grinned. ‘Won me some brownie points Downstairs, this tower.’ He strode back to the area of conspicuously blank space and snapped his fingers at the patch of thin air in front of them. A ripple seemed to run across a surface that was defined by not being there.
‘Show yourself, it’s me,’ he said, and another ripple went through the shape. Now though, instead of going over the invisible surface and dissipating, the wave seemed to stick wherever it touched, adding shape and substance and colour to the building. Within seconds, Hammersmith’s apartment was visible in front of them. It was large and flat-sided, like a shoebox, and equally as unprepossessing from the outside. It had a note pinned to its simple white front door. Bailey leaned in to read it.
‘Go ahead. Burgle me. I dare ya.’ Bailey rolled his eyes, and Hammersmith grinned at him again, pushed open the door.
I’ve never been particularly sure what the ‘blog’ elements of this website should contain. Progress on the writing front, yes, but I’ve classified the posts that link to places where my non-fiction work is published as news stories, and as there is little enough news during either the writing or the rewriting phase of producing a novel, I’m not entirely sure what to fill this section with. People I know tend to fill it with interviews with other authors, or reviews of work by other authors – presumably on the understanding that they themselves will then be interviewed or featured on the other author’s blog down the line.
I am by no means above such literary mutual masturbation, and I daresay there will be instances down the line where I post interviews and the like here. But if I’m honest, I’m too much of a self-revolving egotist to do this too often. There’s a nagging kernel in my mind that says blogs on this website should be about me, me, me! So I make you this pledge before we really start: if you see an interview on this blog, it’s with an author I know, or about a work I’ve not only read, but highly rate. This site will not become click-bait for every author or book that begs for likes in return for likes – that would make the whole thing entirely meaningless, and who has the time to engage in meaningless bilge?
Interspersed with these genuine recommendations, interviews or recommendations, there will, going forward, be the usual progress reports on the process of writing, seeking representation, failing, trying again, failing better, and ideally, eventually, the business of getting an agent, getting a publisher and becoming that shining, potential thing – a published author (one way or another). There will also be other things. Snippets of blogs I’ve written in other venues, going back some years and going forward from here. And possibly – rather inspired by watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, reading some Thurber, and being gently kicked in the shins by my wife, stories from my life. I know, I know, we all have stories from our lives. You want to share yours, get a blog of your own. You want to read mine, for whatever reasons you decide upon – they’ll be here.
So if this post has been about anything, it’s been about refocusing the blogging element of the site, setting new parameters of quality control, making new promises, and generally giving a state of the website address about what you can expect going forward.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled web-viewing. Oh look, a cat. Wonder if it’s going to do something hilarious in a minute…
Have rather miraculously found myself with about six days when all I have to do is the day job. Then, suddenly, things are set to get incredibly mad throughout December. So – I have the best part of a week to do the rewrite of Wonderful. No pressure there, eh?
I’ve been thinking about it since I wrote “The End” on Page 350-odd, so there are things I know I definitely need to do to the manuscript, and things that have deliciously suggested themselves to me – things like the Pencil of Ultimate Doom, for instance, things which give the piece a bit more oompf and a bit more bounce and a bit more joy.
What’s more, Ive been mainlining The West Wing recently, and that’s a) always good for dialogue, and b) the modern equivalent of Shakespeare, I swear, and I want to get more of that flavour into the work. I have the nasty suspicion that as it stands, there are funnier books with similar premises out there, and I need to really notsomuch up my game, as launch it from a cannon or strap it to a Soyuz missile or somesuch. It feels too leaden in places it should be light, too light in places it should hit hard, and too hectoring and lecturing…erm…pretty much everywhere. It’s a very odd sensation, you know, to have a novel that in itself is fairly sure it’s better than your ability to write it, but I’m an editor by trade, I know this happens. I’ve seen fantastic ideas let criminally down by the author’s inability to handle or master the potential of their imaginations.
Did I mention the six days? Seriously, no pressure.
In the meantime, here’s a treat for you – the latest in the fantastic illustrations from PS Brooks, this one showing Hell’s secret cabinet:
Top of the table – Beelzebub. Then down the left hand side: Mammon (he of the Pencil of Ultimate Doom) the Demon Builder; Lilith, Queen of the Succubi; Mephistopheles, Git, First Class and celebrity demon.
Down the right hand side: Moloch, Head of the Joint Chiefs and Warrior Demon, Cowle, Head of the new but surprisingly powerful Entertainment Division, and standing, Belial, Secretary General of the Amalgamated Union of Demons, Evildoers and Revenant Spirits, or AUDERS.
In the dying hours of October – by which time I hoped to have finished writing, editing and started to send the book off – the news is that I’ve FINISHED WRITING Wonderful.
It comes in at 90,633 words, which is respectable enough for the comic fantasy genre. Works out at 318 double spaced Word pages.
Technically, there’s still a little work to do on it – there are two scenes I’d like to add in, both of them short, and hell, I still have a couple of hours before the end of October. And I need to redistribute my chapter headings and put in some page numbers, but essentially, it goes from title page to the words “The End” – and I have actually edited a great part of the book, I just need to run through the last…maybe 10-15,000 words for the flow and word-choice. But in its essentials, the book’s done. Will work on it till bedtime just to smooth out these last issues, then tomorrow, it’s back to editing – and I’m guessing, working on the synopsis and letter, which actually feels a lot clearer in my head now the story’s finished. So – that’s the easy bit done. Now to try and sell the book and become a published author.
Hark as she first appears – wonderful but incredibly naive.
You have to love an internet quiz.
It’s probably the law.
Earlier tonight a friend of mine took an internet quiz that aimed to tell her “What her job would be in the Afterlife”. It turned out she was destined to be a gatekeeper in Heaven.
Which is as much of an excuse as I need to share an extract of Wonderful with you all. Be careful what you wish for, would seem to be the message. And just possibly beware the kind of people who think they probably deserve to go to Heaven.
‘Fill out these forms and hand them to my colleague,’ said the spirit of what was once Geoffrey Alexander Mottershead, his nasal whine perfectly recreated despite him only having the spiritual memory of a nose to whine with. He was bored almost to tears, and that, according to the rules, was perfectly fair.
When Purgatory had been abolished some years previously and Azrael had gone off to ‘find himself,’ Heaven and Hell had seen a massive influx of new residents. And while the Son had protested, as he did to anyone who would listen, that in His Father’s kingdom there were many mansions, Heaven was full of the kind of people who didn’t think any Johnny-come-lately should be able to just turn up and get a mansion, when they obviously hadn’t been devout enough to deserve one outright. If there were mansions, they felt, then they should be reserved for those indigenous, unquestioning believers who had been pure in their belief while they were alive.
The Son had sighed, reflecting, not for the first time, that he’d left a rather significant loophole in the system. Believing in him had seemed like a foolproof entry requirement when he’d first thought it up, but as time had gone on, he’d noticed that it did let through rather a lot of people who weren’t, when all was said and done, as it invariably was by the time he ran into them, very nice. The Crusaders were a more or less devout bunch of chaps, but they would insist on slaughtering people who were different to themselves. Likewise, the Spanish Inquisition fellows (who had, as comic convention appeared to demand, appeared en masse one morning, unexpectedly), were nothing if not enthusiastic believers. The Son had stopped arguing altogether when the Reverend Falwell had turned up. It was obviously pointless. Besides, the Father had no problem with these people.
And so there they were, all the mansion-claimers in their ultimate gated community. And while Heaven was in absolutely no sense a democracy, there were rather a lot of these people, and no-one likes unfriendly, muttering neighbours, so a solution had been found. Hell might be a bureaucracy, but in terms of its ability to stretch a point, spin a line or pick a nit till it howled and begged for mercy, Heaven was more like a law firm. One of those ‘how-much?’ ones that celebrities and rock stars use when they’ve shot someone in the face and need a defence. A solution had been found, or rather engineered. There were plenty of menial jobs in Heaven, most of which had previously been done by the meek – because after all, they never complained and they were due a big windfall one of these days – or by virtue of Grace, the atmospheric field of Heaven.
Now all the new arrivals found themselves doing these menial jobs – tuning harps and cleaning out trumpet spit-valves, polishing thrones and diadems, paving streets with something that glittered, but which fundamentally wasn’t gold, or, in the case of the real borderline specimens, doing the paperwork. Heaven generated a lot of paperwork these days, though of course it wasn’t real paper, any more than the streets were paved with real gold, or the trumpets were filled with real spit. But in a universe where everything was non-material, including the people, it felt real enough to Geoffrey Alexander Mottershead and his colleagues. It felt real enough to the mansion-claimers too, who smiled smugly at what they’d managed to achieve, and agreed to put their heads together more often. It might be Heaven, they said among themselves, but that didn’t mean it had to be fun.
So – people everywhere tell me the feedback from Orion is among the most positive reactions theyve ever heard from a publisher. That’s nice of course, but the only real positive reaction that counts is “We’d like to publish you, here’s a cheque and a sports car and a twelve-book deal, now go away somewhere lovely and don’t come back till you’ve written the next couple.”
Still, there’s time for that, I suppose.
Was discussing the To-Do List of the book with a friend by email earlier. I explained that right now, I need to add one sentence to the first chapter, give my Ritz ‘cat-in-a-box’ scene more action, give my two Galileo scenes a bit more danger, finish my Shakespeare scene, deciding whether Shakespeare gets his brain burned out before he writes Hamlet, or after, add in my Gandhi scene, re-write the ending of my Moon landing scene, punch Dante in the face again, just because, and then it should all be plain sailing to the end of the world.
There was a pause between emails. Then she came back.
Well, that’s…different, she wrote.
I know, I assured her. Dilemmas of a fantasy writer. I bet Dickens never had to deal with this sort of thing.
Apologies, everyone – been rather quiet of late, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is I’ve been what they call ‘head down, bum up,’ writing – and now I’ve cracked the 70,000 word mark. Seventy and counting.
There are two things that need doing though. Firstly, my bit with Shakespeare, my bit with an explanation of the joy of sec (hey, talking to an angel, that’s not as straightforward as it sounds…) and my bit with the entrance exam for Heaven need interspersing, and possibly, in at least the first two cases, need rewriting, so that they a) make sense and b) are funny. Pretty happy with the entrance exam stuff – maybe an extract will be coming your way shortly. Need a bit with Gandhi too, which needs thinking about.
Verrrrry surprised and happy with my “end of Act 2” highly dramatic bit. Not sure where that came from, but it reads pretty well, if I say it as shouldn’t. But now, the second thing needs doing.
I need to finish.
There are all sorts of writers in the world of course – those who are afraid to start, those who know in advance they’ll peter out in the middle and so don’t pick up a pen at all. For me, it’s finishing that’s always been the problem. Not that there’s any particular issue with the story – I know where it goes from here to the end. It’s just the idea of having something finished, and having to take it seriously. Having to take myself seriously. Scary stuff.
But this time, dammit, there will be an ending. Annnnnd then there will be inevitable rewrites – not least because I’ve written a whole lot of new scenes, and there were some pre-existing scenes, and ultimately the journey of one of the characters needs to be re-stitched through them all in a way that makes sense and convinces. But there will be an ending…there will…there will…
For now, woohoo – 70k done, two-ish weeks of September left. I’d love to be able to have a rough draft of the manuscript by the start of October, so I can spend a couple of weeks polishing, and then start sending it out. Will that be anything like a reasonable timeline?
A good long weekend on the writing front. I’ve broken through two barriers: I’ve now got a manuscript of 200 pages (double-spaced, TNR 12), and I’ve also passed through the 60,000 word barrier.
On that basis, the draft of the book should be ready this time next month. Then I have a month to edit the bejeesus out of it and sell it.
Granted, in the edit, there are things I’ll need to change – need to add a couple of short, two-paragraph scenes in, but I know what they are and more or less where they should go. I also know roughly what the next 50 pages need to accomplish.
Going to have quite a mad week – have a magazine to finish, and a couple of online articles to write, but if I can reach 75k by Friday, I’ll be satisfied. Let’s see, shall we?
Clint McCallister, the new Cinderella, in his father’s Stetson. Image by PSBrooks.com.
‘What?’ said Clint. ‘Well, you’ve heard of Cinderella?’ ‘The fairy tale?’ ‘Exactly. Heard of Snow White?’ ‘Yyyyyes,’ admitted Clint. ‘Sleeping Beauty?’ Clint nodded. ‘Clint McCallister?’ ‘What?’ ‘All the girls? All real,’ said Tubal Cain. ‘You… next.’ ‘What?’ said Clint again. ‘Every now and then, we in the fairy community perform an outreach to you in the human world. We pick one lucky lad or lady and we turn their humdrum little life upside-down. They all live happily ever after (terms and conditions apply), and the human world gets a timely reminder of how cool it is to share a planet with us fairy folk. Capiche?’ ‘Ca-what?’ said Clint. ‘Understand?’ ‘You wanna turn me into a fairy story?’ Tubal Cain looked around the kitchen. ‘You’re already a fairy story waiting to happen. You just need… y’know… the fairy. Ta dahhhh!’ ‘Stop that.’ Tubal Cain grinned. ‘And you can cut that out when you like, an’ all. Gives me the heebie jeebies.’ There was a thing Clint should be doing, he knew. A morning thing. Tea. He filled the kettle and put it on, scrolling to ‘Make Johnny’s Tea’ in his mental Stuff To Do list and crossing it off.
There’s a mad man in our kitchen, his brain chuntered. And you’re making tea.
Meet Clint McCallister. He’s a thirty-five year-old ‘paperboy’ in the East End of London, oppressed by his frustrated brother Johnny, terrorised by his would-be Sister-in-law Mary, and almost certain never to live up to his potential in the shadow of his late father, the Cowboy Newsagent of the Mile End Road. Your typical Disney princess, he is not. But the hero of Happily Ever After he is, after a fashion. Can Tubal Cain, the worst fairy in the world, arrange things so that this man lives happily ever after?